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Conflict with Iraq


Battle Lines
Tom Brown
Tom Brown
Battle Lines is an ongoing Web log (blog) dedicated to providing a broad perspective on the latest news and developments from the war in Iraq. Response and suggestions are welcomed.

Tom Brown has been an editor, reporter and software analyst for The Seattle Times for 20 years.

April 22, 2003

Signing off

With war news winding way down, we've decided this is an appropriate time to put the Battle Lines war blog to rest. We're glad that the conflict with Iraq seems to be fading from the news, and that a daily blog no longer carries the same urgency that it did a month ago.

However, we'll be looking at whether a blog examining the day's headlines would provide a useful service to our readers. If you have thoughts about whether the news blog was useful to you, please send us an e-mail.

Posted by Katherine Long at 05:43 PM


The Saddam Files

(posted by Katherine Long)

How do you turn a society that was run through fear, torture and intimidation into something approaching a democracy? Newsweek's cover story, The Saddam Files, examines the atrocities and then asks some tough questions about what it's going to take to undo decades of rule where torture was routine and corruption was rampant.

"America wants to bring liberty and democracy to Iraq. But first the Iraqis will have to come to terms with the legacy of fear Saddam created, and regain the humanity that was frightened and beaten out of them by three decades of grotesque misrule. No wonder Iraqi looters torched and sacked the National Library and stole their nation’s antiquities from the National Museum. They had lived all or most of their lives in a world where neighbors informed on each other for cash; where torturers multiplied their salaries each time they extracted a confession; where police made only $4 a month for catching crooks but could earn lavish bonuses by imprisoning people for their thoughts and words."

Did weapons story go too far?

Judith Miller's front-page scoop in the New York Times earlier this week was the first story to suggest that Iraq spirited banned weapons of mass destruction out of the country days before the US attacked. But the unusual deal Miller struck with the military unit she covers raises questions about whether she went too far to get the story, says Slate's Jack Schafer.

Posted by Katherine Long at 03:19 PM


Demonstrations in Karbala

(posted by Katherine Long)

Shiite pilgrims marched to Karbala's holy shrine Tuesday to mark the death of one of their most revered saints. Here's one account of the public demonstrations in the Christian Science Monitor.

In this analysis piece, the BBC examines political divisions among the Iraqi Shia.

Thanks - now, leave

It's difficult for us to understand this attitude, but many foreign correspondents are reporting a growing impatience among Iraqis who want US forces to leave immediately.

"Thank you for getting rid of Saddam," said Hathem Mohammed Bender, a poet who also hailed the arrival of American forces. "Now please go home. Let us take care of things."

Antiquities surface on the black market

Stolen Iraqi artifacts are just now beginning to surface on the international art market. Experts say they expect thieves will attempt to sell most of the stolen pieces in wealthy countries such as the United States, Britain, Germany, Japan, France and Switzerland. "People in the United States already buy about 60 percent of the world's art, both legal and illegal," CBS News says.

Posted by Katherine Long at 12:03 PM


Building a government from scratch

"Everything is the challenge" in postwar Iraq, retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Jay Garner said yesterday. But life is starting to return to normal, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "More and more stores are opening, butcher shops are full of hanging meat, and even some restaurants are opening their doors.

"During the day, traffic jams clog the dusty streets - just as before the war. The constantly shifting US military checkpoints, where tanks sometimes block entire thoroughfares, add to the snarl."

The New York Times follows a doctor who's volunteered to be city administrator in Diwaniya, a large city south of Baghdad.

"In much of Iraq, government right now, where it exists at all, is as improvisational as jazz. And here in Diwaniya, a city of more than 400,000 people 120 miles south of Baghdad, the bandleader for the moment is Dr. Shammary, a genial former medical professor."

Weapons woes

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is claiming today that the US tried to discredit his team and used "shaky" intelligence to make the case for war in Iraq.

In an interview with the BBC, Blix said "US officials tried to discredit UN weapons inspectors working in Iraq in a bid to win security council support for military action." He also raised questions about the quality of US intelligence, and said he found it "very, very disturbing" that the US failed to identify as fakes documents suggesting Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger, in West Africa.

Americans may not be finding chemical and biological weapons in Iraq because they've been spirited away, and the evidence in files and electronic data may have been stolen under the cover of recent looting. That could be a dangerous development, the Washington Post reports.

"If such weapons or the means of making them have been removed from the centralized control of former Iraqi officials, high-ranking U.S. officials acknowledged, then the war may prove to aggravate the proliferation threat that President Bush said he fought to forestall."

Posted by Katherine Long at 07:06 AM


April 20, 2003

Smoking gun?

(posted by Katherine Long)

A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade is telling an American military team that Iraq did away with its chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment just days before the war started, the New York Times says. The scientist led Americans to a site where he helped bury chemicals used to make weapons of mass destruction. Officials called it the most important discovery to date in the hunt for the banned weapons.

Leading Baghdad

On the day that retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner arrived in Baghdad, the New York Times looks at the difficulties of running the Iraqi capitol, especially given the challenge of identifying a group of Iraqis to help run the city. (A Shiite muslim dissident has already proclaimed himself mayor, but his appointment has not been recognized by the U.S. military.)

The newspaper reports that "the country seems to have entered a new period in which there is a general recognition that Mr. Hussein's government is gone for good and the jockeying to fill the power vacuum among has intensified. There is also a growing struggle for influence by outside powers like Syria and Iran, whose agents are already operating inside the country.

"American military commanders say the success of their campaign will depend on how the United States deals with these challenges. The war was decided in Phase Three, but ultimate success will depend on Phase Four of the campaign plan: stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq."

Catharsis

Iraqis are finally discovering the fates of loved ones who disappeared long ago, the Washington Post reports.

"The fall of Hussein's government has broken a terrible silence here. Across the country, the relatives of the disappeared are speaking of their loved ones for the first time -- pouring out memories of their terror and helplessness as an all-powerful state swept up its victims at the slightest utterance of dissent and gagged those left behind." According to human rights groups, at least 300,000 people are missing -- a number that includes people who went missing 25 years ago and others who were dragged away in the middle of the war.

Some Iraqis who survived the old regime's torture chambers are returning to the places where they were imprisoned to try to heal the scars, the New York Times reports.

"Across the country, the collapse of the Hussein government and the unmasking of intelligence service centers like Al Hakemiya is bringing out scores of people...who have returned in freedom to the places of their captivity. They are engaging in a great national catharsis, confronting the black heart of Mr. Hussein's rule and proclaiming its depravity for everyone to see."

Going home

How does it feel to go back home when the war is over? A Boston Globe reporter reflects on what it was like to be embedded in a unit of artillery soldiers during the war -- and the courage the troops showed in the heat of battle.

Posted by Katherine Long at 08:49 PM


April 18, 2003

The irony of freedom

(posted by Katherine Long)

The mood continues to shift in Baghdad, where tens of thousands of Iraqi muslims demonstrated against the US presence after prayers today.

An al-Jazeera correspondent said it was the first non-state organized protest in the Iraqi capital in decades, and described it as a significant development.

Clearly, this complicates matters. On the one hand, Iraqis are getting a taste of democracy. On the other, the first thing they want is for us to leave. So, now what?

Saddam surfaces; Blair thought of quitting

He was alive. But now he's dead. Rumors continue to swirl in Baghdad regarding the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein.

In Great Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair told the tabloid Sun newspaper that he was poised to quit if he had been defeated by his own party over the conflict in Iraq.

"In the end, it is a decision you put the whole of your Premiership on the line for," Blair said. Blair also said he thought that "if the UN had given a strong and unified ultimatum to Saddam, it is possible we could have avoided conflict."

Posted by Katherine Long at 01:13 PM


Dispatches

(posted by Katherine Long)

It's no longer war, but it's not yet peace. There's more good reporting today from reporters on the streets of Baghdad:

  • The Christian Science Monitor interviews three Iraqi officers who tell what it was like to be on the other side of the front line.

    "Faced with America's firepower and technological superiority, three Iraqi officers - who fought in different parts of Iraq - say they never expected to win this war. But they voice dismay at the number of Iraqi errors - deployment of militia groups instead of army units, for example - and at the impact of US psychological operations."

  • The Los Angeles Times talks to Iraqis who are mourning the loss of their cultural heritage.

    "As the residents of this rattled city venture slowly forth to take stock of the war's wastes, one thing has become tragically clear: Many of Iraq's most precious cultural institutions are now just memories. After surviving the U.S.-led bombing attacks, many of the nation's historical centerpieces have been lost to riots and rage."

  • The Sydney Morning Herald finds good and bad in the streets of Baghdad -- people are now free to demonstrate without fear of reprisals, but the city is lawless and chaotic.

    "Baghdad is free of the Saddam regime, but it is charred and scared. There's a dead donkey on the Jumurayiah Bridge and torched government buildings still smoulder. The smell of death lingers and the hardcore looters fight gun battles and wield axes in the streets as they brawl over the safes and vaults of the city's banks."

  • A BBC reporter is one of hundreds of journalists making the 650-mile trip from the Jordanian capital Amman to Baghdad. Martin Asser writes about the frightening journey by car, where highway robbers and looters cruise the highway.

  • Posted by Katherine Long at 11:23 AM


    Where are the weapons?

    (posted by Katherine Long)

    A thousand soldiers in Iraq are now helping to search for chemical weapons. But so far the mission has been plagued by numerous false readings of suspected chemical and biological materials.

    "Washington's credibility is being eroded further, according to arms specialists, by the continued refusal to include international participation in the search," the Boston Globe reports.

    ''I believe they will find weapons of mass destruction, and I think it's going to be important to get the international community involved,'' Lee Feinstein, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Globe.

    Reuters reports that "former U.N. inspectors said the U.S. military's efforts to find weapons of mass destruction allegedly hidden by President Saddam Hussein have gotten off to a slow start, increasing the chances that some could be spirited out of Iraq and sold to terrorist groups."

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the U.S. military's search for chemical and biological weapons is unlikely to succeed until Iraqis help American forces find the hiding places.

    Unmarked graves

    Weapons of mass destruction have remained elusive, but something else has emerged -- a mass gravesite.

    Nearly 1,600 unmarked graves in Kirkuk may be the remains of some of the untold tens of thousands of civilians who were killed or disappeared in crackdowns brought by Saddam Hussein during his rule.

    "Human rights organizations and Iraqi households have long awaited the collapse of Mr. Hussein's Arab Baath Socialist Party, saying it would allow the beginning of the tedious process of accountability and the return to families of missing remains," the New York Times reported.

    Could the bodies be Iran-Iraq war victims, or are they victims of atrocities? The questons may take a long time to answer.


    Posted by Katherine Long at 06:46 AM


    April 17, 2003

    Cultural advisors quit over antiquities issue

    (posted by Katherine Long)

    Reuters is reporting that two cultural advisers to the Bush administration have resigned in protest over the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the wholesale looting of priceless treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum.

    "If we understood the value of Sumerian cuneiform tablets to our past, as we do with oil getting us somewhere in our cars, I don't think this would have happened," said Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, told Reuters on Thursday.

    Meanwhile, the FBI has announced it has sent agents to Iraq to try to recover the stolen antiquities.

    Posted by Katherine Long at 01:42 PM


    Baghdad reality check

    (posted by Katherine Long)

    Reporters on Baghdad streets are sizing up the city's condition a week after it fell to coalition forces, and painting a grim picture.

    "There is a bitterness and tension between citizens and occupiers," a reporter with The Guardian in London reports. "There is a growing feeling that the occupiers are obsessed with protecting themselves, to the exclusion of taking risks in protecting civilians.

    "Most troublingly, there is a sense that US efforts to restore essential services are more about self-boosting short-term fixes, and not about helping skilled Iraqis put the city back on its feet."

    From the Boston Globe: "More than a week after the US military entered Baghdad, residents are still without electric power. Phones don't work. Many streets are still impassable, blocked by burnt cars, bombing wreckage, or other debris." But most worrisome to Baghdad residents is the lack of police protection on the streets. "Until Baghdadis feel safe in the streets, it is unlikely that commerce will return or that the crowds of unemployed men who cluster around American tanks begging for jobs will disperse."

    A former Iraqi police lieutenant tells the Globe, "As people become more desperate, the crime rate will go higher and higher, even with new police patrols. The future is very dangerous, for the Americans and for us."

    USAToday says conditions are bad at Baghdad's hospitals; health workers say the city is facing a medical disaster. The hospitals were all looted -- most don't have enough electricity or clean water.

    "The only authority in Baghdad -- the U.S. military -- says it is neither equipped nor authorized to run city services, including hospitals," USAToday reports. "That may be the most difficult problem to overcome, say aid workers here. The few doctors and nurses who can get to work or are willing to brave the dangers of the streets are struggling just to treat patients. They say they do not have time to do the vital administrative work that would get hospitals back up and running."

    Things may be better in the south. A warmer picture of Iraq-American relations emerges from a Christian Science Monitor reporter in Nasiriyah.

    "Electricity still remains out in much of the city and medicine is in short supply. But the marines put in a purification system on the Euphrates River to provide potable water. Navy Seabees are starting to make temporary fixes to plumbing, wiring, and buildings around the city. And the visibility of US forces has secured the city enough to allow the first humanitarian groups to return."

    The antiquities mafia

    It's been widely reported today that looters who carted away treasures at the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad knew what they were doing. The BBC calls them "organised gangs of international art traffickers," which makes us think of Indiana Jones turned evil.

    Here's an account of the looting from The Art Newspaper.

    Today, 30 experts on Iraqi antiquities were meeting at the headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris, France. They're hoping to make an inventory of the lost artifacts, then come up with a strategy to recover them.

    The president of the Archaeological Institute of America said the Pentagon had been warned that looting would occur. "I really think this was a preventable occurrence," Jane Waldbaum told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    The Inquirer reports that "scholars at the University of Chicago are putting together a database of photographs of the looted works for law-enforcement agencies. Scrupulous dealers have put out the word that they will not buy the Iraqi material. But no one is optimistic that the pieces will be recovered."

    Posted by Katherine Long at 11:30 AM


    Conspiracy theories

    (posted by Katherine Long)

    Was the fall of Baghdad part of a secret deal between the United States and the Baath regime? It sounds preposterous to American ears, but it's a popular theory in the Arab media.

    "Why did Iraq fall so easily?" the Lebanon Daily Star asks. "And, where did all the Iraqi soldiers and elite units go?"

    (Of course, the U.S. was trying to get Iraqi generals to surrender in the days leading up to the war -- remember those reports that Special Ops were calling members of the Republican Guard on their cell phones, trying to arrange deals?)

    In Basra, there are claims that coaliton forces are protecting Baath party members until the dust settles.

    The head of the Republican Guard cut a deal with the U.S. to surrender, al-Jazeera reports, citing a story in the French newspaper Le Monde.

    Why is the U.S. so interested in Saddam's "black files?" According to a report by the Middle East Research and Information Project, Saddam's files could provide evidence of Iraq's ties to terrorist groups, but they might also contain embarrassing evidence of ties between U.S. companies and Iraq.

    The pro-government Arab News of Saudi Arabia thinks it’s spotted a suspicious pattern -- that President George Bush has stopped mentioning both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

    And then there are legions of theories on Saddam's whereabouts, including the ever-popular belief that he was spirited out of Baghdad and flown to Russia.

    Profiting from reconstruction

    Europeans are alarmed that American companies with strong ties to the Bush administration are being rewarded with reconstruction contracts.

    Is the Bush administration going to create an Enron in Babylon? Asia Times argues that European companies should get considered for some of the contracts -- they have have expertise in rebuilding war-torn countries, and some have even done work in Iraq under the oil-for-food program.

    In a possible indication of things to come, Poland -- a U.S. ally in the Iraq war -- said it wanted preferential treatment when the contracts are doled out to rebuild the country.

    Meanwhile, some Democrats have called for an investigation into the decision to sidestep open bidding on the contracts.

    Posted by Katherine Long at 06:57 AM


    April 16, 2003

    Is it over yet?

    President Bush said today that Saddam Hussein's regime has "passed into history". But he didn't actually declare victory -- yet.

    So when will the war be over?

    According to Agence France Press (quoted here in a Malaysian newspaper), the task of declaring victory will probably fall to U.S. General Tommy Franks, who was in Baghdad today. But he'll want to do it in a low-key way.

    Timing is everything, said British Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt. "The danger is leaving it too late, which could allow civil disruptions to come up, or to do it too early, and when we get the humanitarian aid in and people start taking potshots or try to ambush.''

    Then, too, declaring an end to the war might put greater pressure on the U.S. to bring law and order to the country. "Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, an occupying power has a duty to restore and ensure public order and safety in the territory under its authority," according to Human Rights Watch. "Military commanders on the spot must prevent and where necessary suppress serious violations involving the local population. Ensuring local security includes protecting people from reprisals and revenge attacks, such as those directed against members of minority populations or government officials."

    Where's al-Sahaf?

    Meanwhile, rumors abound that Iraq's former information minister, Muhammed Saeed
    al-Sahaf, has committed suicide. That might be a blow to the folks running the wildly popular www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com, where al-Sahaf's worldwide cult status has been immortalized in cyberspace.

    Posted by Katherine Long at 01:52 PM


    Europeans want more U.N. participation

    The Guardian reports that "amid widespread anti-war protests on the streets of Athens, EU leaders meeting to sign a landmark enlargement agreement today were reported to be drawing up a surprise joint statement on Iraq." The agreement is said to include a strong statement that the United Nations have an important role in rebuilding Iraq.

    Dispatches

    Iraqis in Tikrit feel let down and abandoned because the Iraqi army had not defended the city. Still, they hold out hope Saddam is still alive and would return to rule Iraq.

    Meanwhile, in Baghdad a purported appearance by Saddam Hussein a week ago is already the stuff of legend.

    A Basra man tells how a misplaced bomb destroyed his family.

    Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Watson was in the middle of riot in Mosul when he was attacked and stabbed by a mob.

    And the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson tells what it was like the day Baghdad collapsed.

    Posted by Katherine Long at 11:22 AM


    More impressions from Tikrit

    The Washington Post reports that in much of the rest of Iraq, larger-than-life portraits of Saddam Hussein have been smashed, ripped up and shot with bullets. But not in Tikrit, where nobody dares to deface Hussein's portrait. "In a country where family ties matter, many here consider themselves Hussein's relatives, even if only through tenuous connections or tribal affiliations, enhancing the sense of loyalty to a man who may be dead, on the run or in hiding."

    Speculation about Syria

    Although the Bush administration insists it has no plans to invade Syria, many world newspapers are alarmed by the prospect and worry that an invasion of Iraq's neighbor is a real possibility, the Washington Post reports.

    The Christian Science Monitor argues that what's far more likely is a strategic pause in the action as the administration tries to turn the Iraq victory into diplomatic leverage.

    The Guardian in London sizes up the situation and concludes there's little chance that Washington would launch a Syrian invasion. The recent tough talk warning Syria not to accept fleeing Iraqi officials was a shot across the bow, aimed at dissuading the country from letting Iraqis across the border, the paper says.

    Even if western journalists regard an invasion of Syria as unlikely, some Middle Eastern countries are jittery about the situation. The accusations against Syria are "like throwing oil on a fire or salt in a wound, as you say, and it makes the situation even more tense and precarious," said Hisham Youssef, spokesman for the Arab League, in a story in today's Washington Post. "Israel being involved is going to inflame the whole region. We have suffered enough."

    The Lebanon Daily Star urges Syrians and Americans to sit down and talk.. "These are ominous signs that what many feared has come true: The Bush administration has been emboldened by the alacrity with which the Iraqi military collapsed and now feels confident that it can bring about similar results in other Arab countries that fail to heed its diktats."

    Tracking down the faces on the cards

    How many Iraqis might have fled to Syria? In Israel, there's a strong suspicion that "hundreds" of Iraqi officials fled across the border.

    The Israeli site DEBKAfile claims that as early as Sunday, "small teams of American undercover troops were already inside Syria marking out the hideouts of Saddam’s close family, his top lieutenants, military leaders and the directors of his banned weapons programs." DEBKA has been reporting since early this month that numerous Iraqi officials fled Baghdad shortly after the invasion to stay in a 1,600-room luxury resort in Syria. with 600 meters of private sandy beach in the Mediterranean coastal town of Latakiya.

    Is Saddam's first wife one of them? Yesterday, U.S. officials said Sajida Talfah has fled Iraq, but wouldn't say where they thought she was.

    One thing's fairly certain -- Iraqis are probably not going to seek refuge in Iran.

    Posted by Katherine Long at 07:00 AM


    April 15, 2003

    Everybody loves a winner

    Now that the war is practically over, British voters have suddenly decided it was a good idea after all. Support for the war among British voters has surged to a new record level of 63%, according to results of a poll taken this week by the British newspaper The Guardian. Here at home, the success of the war has strengthened President George Bush's approval rating, according to a New York Times/CBS poll. Still, a majority of U.S. voters remain opposed to a policy of pre-emptive attack, and fear that the White House might turn the nation's military might on North Korea, Syria or Iran in the future.

    Impressions

    Reporters talking to the people who live in Saddam's home town of Tikrit are coming back with a variety of impressions.

    A Canadian journalist finds Iraqis visiting Saddam's palaces and marveling over the riches. A British reporter finds some Tikrit residents who are fed up with American troops. But a Los Angeles Times reporter finds Tikrit residents who say they harbor no special love for Saddam.

    In Baghdad, a Boston Globe reporter talks to disenfranchised Shia Muslims, who will probably hold one of the keys to preventing Baghdad from erupting into civil war.

    And there was never any popular military uprising in Basra, Iraqis living there say. "They described a city that functioned relatively normally until the British entered -- and many said the main fear was of artillery and airstrikes," the Washington Post reported.

    Posted by Katherine Long at 11:43 AM


    Building a government from scratch

    Iraqi and American officials met today to take the first steps toward creating a postwar government that can run Iraq. Today's session inspired boycotts and protests from opposition groups.

    The Washington Post has put together a guide to governing post-war Iraq, including profiles of key players.

    Saving Iraq's treasures

    Leading world archeologists will meet in Paris Thursday to talk about ways to rescue Iraq's cultural heritage, after looters plundered Iraqi museums that housed priceless artifacts.

    Meanwhile, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, called for measures to fight the illicit trafficking of stolen antiquities.

    And British antiquities experts are being dispatched to Iraq to help in the restoration and recovery of looted antiquities. The British Museum has the greatest collection of Mesopotamian art outside Iraq.

    This isn't the first time Iraq's archaeological riches have been stolen. Years after the first Gulf War, Iraq antiquities entered the black market, most likely sold for a pittance by desperate locals trying to make some extra money.

    Who buys stolen antiquities? Reuters says there are two markets: collectors willing to pay millions for the high-end items, and others who would pay much less for smaller items like pottery, which might sell for $20 to $50 on eBay.

    Looting in general seems to be subsiding, but many Baghdad citizens are angry about the degree of looting and believe the U.S. had a responsibility to step in and prevent it.

    Armed with cameras and guns

    When CNN reporters came under fire Sunday near Tikrit, the armed guards escorting them fired back. The incident raises interesting questions about what's acceptable, and what isn't, when reporting in a combat zone.

    According to the LA Times, Sunday's incident represented the first time that media vehicles had traveled in combat with private, armed security guards. "Journalists did not employ such personal protection during the Balkan and the 1991 Persian Gulf wars," the paper noted. "They did, however, use armed guards during the conflict in Somalia, said Joel Campagna, the Mideast program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is based in New York."

    "Why was (CNN's Brent) Sadler storming Tikrit before U.S. forces got there?" asks Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz. "If reporters with armed escorts go into battle zones on their own, is it any wonder that they will be treated as little different than soldiers?"

    And now for something completely different

    On a cheerier note, we bring you poetry by Donald Rumsfeld, great post-war gift ideas and one analyst's prediction that the next country to face U.S. military pressure won't be Syria.


    Posted by Katherine Long at 07:05 AM


    April 14, 2003

    Cashing in on the war

    It didn't take long for a pack of those Iraqi-most-wanted playing cards -- the ones that the U.S. military issued to troops -- to show up on eBay. An Ohio man claims to have more than 2,000 copies of the packs, which he obtained by "calling in a few favors." Hmm - I think we'll pass.

    If you want to check out a virtual pack, try the flip deck on Newsday's site.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. is starting to rope in some of the faces on the cards. Iraq's top nuclear scientist has surrendered, and Saddam's half-brother has been captured as well.

    Posted by Katherine Long at 11:47 AM


    How we won the war

    The Washington Post has written a fascinating insider’s account of how the U.S. military was able to win control of Iraq despite blinding sandstorms, the fear of imminent chemical weapons attacks and disagreement among top military planners about how to conduct the invasion. According to the Post, some senior military planners believe the invasion might have been successful even earlier if a plan to persuade Iraqi forces to surrender had gotten a chance to get off the ground. Meanwhile, the New York Times weighs in with an analysis of how the war played out in the Oval Office.

    Understanding the Arab perspective

    Note: I'm filling in for Tom Brown while he takes a few weeks of rest from blogging. To get ready to be a blogger, I've been spending hours Web-surfing to try to get a sense of what's being written about the war in the foreign press. I find the most interesting reading is often found in newspapers I know very little about -- like Al-Ahram, the semi-official voice of the Egyptian government; or the Sydney Morning Herald, which seems to ferret out interesting little stories on the ground in Iraq.

    For example --

  • It’s still hard for us to understand how Arabs could despise Saddam Hussein, yet be outraged by America’s successful toppling of the feared dictator. In weekly English-language version of Al-Ahram, one of Egypt’s oldest newspapers, Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon explains the paradox, arguing that "tyranny is now replaced with colonialism.”

  • The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Iraqi Muslims came to the aid of Baghdad's tiny Jewish community by chasing out looters over the weekend.
  • Katherine Long


    Images of war

    Embedded photographers on the front lines have made many dramatic, poignant and sometimes even beautiful still photographs out of the chaos of war. A collection of some of the best work from photographers at Agence France Press, the Associated Press, Newsweek and the New York Times, among others, is posted on Web galleries at digitaljournalist.org – images that are familiar, as well as many that aren’t.

    A Marine helicopter passing over a herd of camels in a hazy sunset. Iraqi women mourning over a coffin in a stark graveyard filled with gravestones. Young children and their veiled mothers fleeing the nightmare of a bombing raid.. The bizarre juxtaposition of high-tech American military machinery against a backdrop of poverty and need.

    In an essay on the site, Peter Howe argues that the Internet has been good for war photography because it offers "a more complete and compelling photographic coverage of the war."

    "Even the mainstream media seemed liberated from conservatism on their own web sites, maybe because they consider them less important," Howe wrote. "For the committed Internet user the opportunity was there to see the war through other eyes and other cultures, and many of the images that were not published in the United States surfaced on foreign sites."

    Here are more Internet slide shows:

  • The New York Times has placed hundreds of its war photographs in a Web slide show.
  • MSNBC's Images of War is a collection of photographs since the beginning of the war.
  • The Los Angeles Times' gallery of war photographs.
  • The Baltimore Sun gallery
  • Posted by Katherine Long at 07:10 AM


    April 11, 2003

    Saddam watch, day 24

    He’s apparently still alive, or at least was on Wednesday, when he showed up at the Imam al Adham mosque, according to residents of the area. He opened the sunroof of his limousine, climbed onto the roof of the car and allowed his dutiful subjects to kiss his feet, the residents said.

    It’s impossible to know what to believe in the chaos that has developed in Baghdad after the collapse of Saddam’s government. But the U.S. took this report seriously enough that it dispatched Marines to the mosque, where a fierce firefight developed that left one Marine dead and 20 injured. If Saddam was inside, he successfully slipped away.

    Civil chaos in Iraq

    The U.S. seems to have miscalculated the level of civil unrest that would arise in the vacuum left by the departure of Saddam’s regime. Looting has hit every major city. Government buildings have been sacked, banks robbed. In some cities, roving gangs of thieves are breaking into businesses and homes. Another problem is payback – getting even with former members of a hated government.

    Heavy fighting along the Iraq border with Syria

    You may never have heard of Qaim, which is a town on the Euphrates River close to the Syrian border, but one of the longest battles of the war is being fought there. The fighting between U.S. Special Forces and British commandos on one side and Iraqi Special Republican Guards on the other is now in its third week.

    So what’s so special about Qaim? It was a uranium separation facility for Iraq’s budding nuclear program before the Gulf War. The plant was heavily bombed then.

    But the tenacity with which the site is being defended now leads U.S. commanders to believe it may be a site for SCUD missiles or other prohibited weapons (Iraq launched SCUDs against Israel from this area in 1990).

    Halliburton subsidiary gets a contract worth up to $7 billion

    Kellog Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, where Vice President Dick Cheney hung his hat before being elected with President Bush, has been given a no-bid contract worth a maximum of $7 billion over two years for oil field services in Iraq. Profit is supposed to be capped at 7 percent.

    This analysis suggests that the oil fields, which are in a sorry state, may need $2.5 billion in work to get Iraqi production back to the level that existed before the Gulf War. It also suggests that the U.S. has consistently overestimated the likely revenue available from the Iraqi fields.

    The European Union has announced it will investigate bidding practices for Iraq projects to ensure that they don’t violate World Trade Organization standards or discriminate against European companies. The French, Germans and Russians didn’t want to go to Iraq a month ago, but they’re certainly eager now.

    Posted by tbrown at 11:47 AM


    Here's a plot just made for TV

    I’ve got an idea for a new episode of “West Wing” or Fox’s “24:”

    The U.S. is winning a war in a distant desert country and our government is looking for a potential head of a new “interim” regime that will be installed soon. But our leaders can’t agree on who it should be.

    The Defense Department and the vice president are backing an exiled banker who lives in London and has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for bank fraud in another distant desert country. The CIA is leaking classified documents like a sieve to diss this guy, who they say has no following in his home country and has been wrong about events in the Middle East (kind of like the CIA).

    The State Department and the CIA have their own candidate, a former military chief of staff who was charged in a small Scandinavian country with the war crime of having murdered civilians in his desert homeland. Before he could be tried, though, he mysteriously disappeared. And the Scandinavian country, an ally of ours in the war, thinks the CIA was behind it.

    This guy reportedly has shown up in the distant desert country – where a bulletin today says he may or may not have been slain in a mosque and chopped into pieces for being an “American stooge.”

    This may seem far-fetched. However, it is all actually happening right now in D.C. and Iraq.

    The convicted felon is Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group that opposes Saddam Hussein. He was convicted in absentia of bank fraud in Jordan, which says he’ll be arrested if he shows up there.

    The accused war criminal is Nizar Khazraji, who was charged in Denmark with the war crimes of murdering civilians and pillage while he was a military leader for Saddam in the late 1980s. He abruptly disappeared March 17, two days before the war started. Khazraji, who is believed to be the highest Iraqi military officer ever to successfully defect from Saddam’s regime, denies the charges against him and says they were cooked up by the Baghdad regime to discredit him. Slate has an exellent piece on the adventures of Khazraji, and the CIA’s possible involvement.

    But there’s more to tell. Despite the black mark on his record, Chalabi, at least, seems to deserve a shot at winning a role in the postwar Iraqi government. Iraqis may decide this applies to Khazraji, as well. Interestingly, he is supported by two Kurdish groups whose people he is accused of killing (a third Kurdish group wants him prosecuted, and the evidence against him produced at a Danish court hearing was stark).

    Because of the brutal repression of Saddam’s regime, it will be difficult to locate many Iraqis with the skills necessary for government administration who don’t also have close ties to the Saddam regime. Also, it can only be helpful for at least some people in the new administration to have had experience living in places other than Iraq – that is, to have been exposed to the ideals of representative government, which President Bush has said repeatedly is one of our goals for Iraq.

    The U.S. earlier this month flew Chalabi and some 700 members of his exile “army” to Iraq to make sure he’d be there when the decisions start to be made.

    Chalabi seems to be trying to establish himself as a voice independent of the U.S. On Wednesday, he criticized the interim U.S. military government of Iraq, headed by retired U.S. Gen. Jay Garner, for moving into Iraq too slowly. Chalabi was mobbed by thousands of his countrymen in Nasariyah, so maybe he does have some support within Iraq (it will take a while before it’s clear which Iraqi feelings are genuine and which are transitory).

    It will be important, though, for the U.S. to not seem to be imposing Chalabi or Khazraji on Iraq. Washington should just be happy they’re in the mix.

    If they don’t get killed first.

    Which brings us to today’s hot rumor. Arab News, the website of a Saudi English-language paper, breathlessly reported that Khazraji and an anti-Saddam Islamic cleric, Abdul Majid al-Khoei were slashed to death in a mosque in Najaf (Khazraji’s home town) that is one of Islam's holiest sites, then chopped into pieces for being “American stooges.” Then, in the same short dispatch, it said, well, maybe Khazraji wasn’t killed; we can’t be sure. Later the item was removed from the site.

    There’s no doubt that al-Khoei was slain. And perhaps Khazraji would have been, too, if he’d been there. But apparently he wasn’t. More complete reports from Najaf make no mention of him.

    Despite the misfire on Khazraji, Arab News does have a useful piece on the political maneuvering of various groups in Najaf.

    Let's hope that a conference among Iraqi factions scheduled for this weekend to discuss the form an interim government should take goes more smoothly than the encounter at the mosque, which was supposed to be a "reconciliation" meeting.

    Some unanswered questions about the war

    The Israeli site DEBKAfile raises some interesting unanswered questions about the war.

    One of the most intriguing of these is why U.S. troops fired on a Russian diplomatic convoy on its way from Baghdad to Syria last Sunday. DEBKA flatly says that “the convoy led by Ambassador Vladimir Titorenko was deliberately attacked.” That’s been the position of Titorenko, as well. The U.S. denies it. At the time, Russia described its diplomats as “fleeing” beseiged Baghdad.

    “Yet Wednesday, April 9, the ambassador was back at his post in Baghdad, in time to witness the way Baghdad citizens welcomed U.S. Marines,” DEBKA notes. “Suddenly the Kremlin’s evacuation order was rescinded. His rapid return could only have been accomplished by a special flight. The question is what – or who – was the Russian convoy conveying under diplomatic cover out of Baghdad that was important enough for an ambassadorial escort all the way to Moscow? As soon as the ‘package’ was delivered, Titorenko turned round and returned.”

    Despite rumors that Saddam had been hiding in the Russian Embassy, it seems unlikely that he was the convoy’s cargo. The U.S. and Russia are already seriously at odds over Iraq and harboring Saddam in Moscow would trigger a genuine diplomatic crisis. A more likely explanation, I think, is that the convoy was used by Russian intelligence to ferry out Iraqi intelligence files. Russia’s foreign minister is believed to have discussed this with Saddam before the war began.

    Since the CIA has been salivating over the prospect of securing the files itself it’s always possible that it took serious enough exception that it perforated several of the autos and four Russians, one of whom was seriously injured. Or, the Russians may have just blundered into a firefight between U.S. and Iraqi forces, which is what one Russian reporter said at the time.

    DEBKA’s other unanswered questions also are worth a read: Why have Iraqi forces guarding bridges, in more than one instance, suddenly melted away, leaving the route open to advancing U.S. trooops? After three weeks of war, why hasn’t the U.S. showed any Iraqi military commanders? Where are all the regime’s ministers?

    Check it out in the War Diary below the site’s headlines.

    In the mail

    Michael Ealem of Kirkland comments in an e-mail about anti-war sentiment now that the war seems to be closer to ending:

    “I'm still seeing a number of buttons – and the sentiment behind it is still there. I've been on some city buses recently where some impassioned discussions were going on – no violence, mind you, but there are still a lot of people (including a sizeable number of minorities, given the racial makeup of participants in the bus discussions) who are incensed and who aren't buying the Chicken Hawk party line about the motivations for the war. To paraphrase the Clintonistas, ‘It's still the economy....’

    “My personal opinion is that, considering how clueless the administration appears to be regarding post-war reconstruction both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, this war was ill-conceived from the beginning. And if it is just the first in a series of ‘regime changes,’ we are in deep doo-doo. It seems more like this was a political theory that the Chicken Hawks wanted to test out, except that they wanted to use real human beings as their toys instead of computer simulations. Sun Tzu still said it best: ‘Anger can revert to joy, wrath can revert to delight, but a nation destroyed cannot be restored to existence, and the dead cannot be restored to life.’

    “And when people assert that we're ‘liberating’ Iraq, I remind them that in reality we're trying to clean up another of our little messes that go back to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, who supported Saddam in the '63 and '68 coups. Not to mention my favorite joke nowadays: Reporter: ‘How do we know that Saddam has chemical and biological weapons?’ Senator: ‘Because we kept the receipts.’

    “And I notice the US media isn't showing us any pictures of the chaos and suffering going on in the hospitals in Baghdad – I wonder how the local populace will feel, both here and in Iraq, when the reality sinks in as to the human cost of this little ‘adventure’ in Arabia. We've sold out these people several times before – what makes anyone think this time will be any different?”

    If you have comments on the war, whatever your perspective, send them along to tbrown@seattletimes.com. Civil language only, please.

    A San Jose columnist is planning a book about blogs

    Dan Gillmour, who writes for the San Jose Mercury News and the paper’s web site is planning to write a book about weblogs and how they’re changing journalism. He says he’ll post sections of the book from time to time to seek feedback from readers.

    Posted by tbrown at 07:06 AM


    April 10, 2003

    A first draft of history

    John F. Burns of the New York Times and Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post, who stuck it out in Baghdad after the war began, have told consistently compelling stories about this conflict. Their reports on the fall of Baghdad and its immediate aftermath cover most human emotions: jubilation, anger, grief, optimism and perhaps most important, ambivalence.

    As reporters will tell you, writing the lead -- the first paragraph of the story -- is one of the hardest tests they face. The best leads are often written when there is little time for reflection. You just do it. Burns' lead today captures the crescendo of emotions in Baghdad better than any I've seen, and I doubt he had much time to agonize over it. The rest of the story is great reading, too, summing up one of the climactic days of the war.

    John F. Burns: Emotional torrent greets U.S. arrival in central Baghdad

    Shadid's piece, which appears to have been massaged at the Post to give it broader scope, is less immediately involving, but very cleanly ties in a number of developments in Washington and elsewhere.

    The trouble with invasions

    One of the big -- no huge -- questions facing the coaltion is how to address the reality that invading armies almost always wear out their welcomes, sometimes very quickly.

    Elsewhere in the Arab world, emotions are volatile

    We've seen the Saddam statue topple ad nauseum on the tube, we've seen people dancing in the streets and enthusiastically greeting Americans. But in other Arab countries, emotions are volatile, and they suggest the U.S. has a very hard slog ahead.

    One more time: Where's Saddam?

    He may be regrouping. This is, for the U.S., the most problematic interpretation of the sudden disappearance of his government in Baghdad. The troubling part isn't that Saddam's government is breaking down, it is that it simply disappeared, suggesting that Saddam may yet have some central control over his most trusted government officials and military units. And, perhaps, that he is marshalling what forces he has left for a final stand.

    But it seems that no one really knows where Saddam is, so that clears the way for us to explore all the current speculation.

    One of my Seattle Times colleagues, David Haakenson, wonders how long it will be before supermarket tabloids sight Saddam pumping gas at a 7-Eleven with Elvis. That could happen any day now. But since Saddam was last heard about Monday, it’s time to recap the most common theories:

    He’s been dead since the war started: This theory holds that Saddam died the first night of the war, March 19, when the U.S. bombed a complex in Baghdad where intelligence reports said he was meeting with other top Iraqis. However, a guy who looked like Saddam appeared on Iraqi TV last week and mentioned the March 24 downing of a U.S. Apache helicopter, so presumably he was alive at that time. And a guy who looked like Saddam was shown walking around somewhere in Baghdad last Friday. But there was no way of determining when the event actually occurred.

    The crater: He’s in it. Monday night’s bombing of a bunker below a restaurant in Baghdad killed him and perhaps his sons as well. All that’s there now is a smoldering 60-foot-deep crater. So far, the dead at the site all appear to be civilians, about a dozen of them. But if Saddam was under a direct hit by four 2,000-pound bombs, it may be difficult to locate his remains. If they are located, Slate outlines the techniques that could be used to identify them.

    No, he escaped again: This is the story according to British intelligence sources cited by the Times of London and the Guardian. "He was probably not in the building when it was bombed," an unnamed intelligence source told the Guardian. The Times quoted a source, also unidentified, who said: "We think he left the same way he arrived in the area, either by a tunnel system or by car, we're not sure."

    He escaped and he’s still in Baghdad: This line of speculation holds that despite two narrow escapes from U.S. bombs, Saddam would never leave the capital. "He's somewhere in the outskirts of Baghdad in a normal house," said Entifadh Qanar, representative of the Iraqi National Congress in the United States, speaking from Qatar.

    Some proponents of this view say that if Saddam survives the takeover of Baghdad by U.S. troops he may eventually try to reemerge as – are you ready? – a resistance leader!

    He escaped and he’s hiding in the Russian Embassy: This rumor popped up today at some Arab and Western news sites, but there appeared to be nothing to substantiate it. In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said, "This type of statement is not in any way true.”

    He escaped, but was badly hurt: Similar to the preceeding item, except that he had to leave Baghdad to get medical treatment. He may have gone to Tikrit, his hometown and power base, or to Syria. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there were indications that Syria was helping high Iraqi government figures escape, but did not suggest Saddam was among them.

    He and his sons left Baghdad last week: Those who hold this theory usually suggest he fled to Tikrit to prepare for a last stand there. Tikrit is about 100 miles up the Tigris River from Baghdad and is not in coalition hands. The U.S. did bomb an underground command bunker there, however.

    He escaped and is in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad: That’s the opinion of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile who is a Pentagon favorite to become a leading figure in postwar Iraq. He also said that one of Saddam’s sons, Qusay “has survived and he is occupying some houses in the Diyala area.”

    He’s in hiding with his family at a Syrian costal resort: This was the theory of the Israeli web site DEBKAfile, which reported that an entire 1,600-room resort was rented by the Iraqi government in late March.

    We just don’t know: Bush, Rumsfeld and the CIA all say this. It probably means they really don’t know or that they suspect he escaped again but don’t want to give his remaining supporters any encouragement by saying so.

    I’m partial to the 7-Eleven theory.

    Let’s not forget the other unanswered questions

    Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are U.S. POWs?

    Blog readers offer some thoughts on the war

    Wednesday morning I mused about what is happening to the “No Iraq War” signs that dot many Seattle neighborhoods. I have no statistics, but it seems to me that there are fewer of them than there were. Has the approaching end of the war changed any opinions?

    “Do you really think that the fact America is winning this war makes it right?” asks Pawel Skudlarski, a research scientist at Yale University. “It took quite a while for media to create those images of Iraqis are parading through the streets of Baghdad waving American flags. Are you talking about the same people who are looting Baghdad?

    “And all those chemical weapons … who cares if they were there, now that we won anyway?”

    He raises a good question. If you believe the war was wrong, winning certainly doesn’t make it right.

    Dr. Greg Fritzberg, an associate professor of graduate education at Seattle Pacific University, says he carried a “No Iraq War” sign because he favored giving inspections a little more time and eventually more support from the international community. As a result, he writes, “… I never felt the sign represented what I felt, which would have been better put as ‘Not yet, not alone’."

    Fritzberg also expresses frustration with news coverage of the war, which has often been confusing and unenlightening – a sentiment I certainly can understand.

    If you have thoughts on the war, send them along: tbrown@seattletimes.com

    What next for the peace movement?

    In Seattle, there will be another anti-war demonstration, which organizers hope will be the largest since the conflict started. Local opponents of the war remained concern about its long-term effect and the possibility that it might encourage the U.S. to start other conflicts.

    Here’s a piece from Common Dreams that outlines challenges that lie ahead for the peace movement and what opponents of the war can do to help meet them.

    A companion piece from the site laments the “profound incivility and intolerance that is at the heart of contemporary American political culture.”

    Posted by tbrown at 12:01 AM


    April 09, 2003

    Iraqi ambassador to the U.N. says "the game is over"

    Iraq’s U.N. ambassador told reporters in New York that “the game is over” and expressed hope that the Iraqi people will be able to live in peace, AP reports.

    His comments were the first admission by an Iraqi official that U.S.-led coalition troops had overwhelmed Iraqi forces.

    “My work now is peace,” he said. “The game is over and I hope the peace will prevail. I hope the Iraqi people will have a happy life.”

    Al-Douri said he has had no communications with Iraq for a long time because of the war. When asked what he thought about the scenes being broadcast from Baghdad, he said, “Well I don’t know really, I watch the television like you.”

    Posted by tbrown at 01:11 PM


    eBay watch

    The number of Iraq items on eBay was up to 3,130 this morning. Up for bid were everything from a “patriotic finger salute” biker patch to Iraqi stamps and currency (which, naturally, bears Saddam’s portrait).

    Posted by tbrown at 11:19 AM


    Hey, let's go loot ... City Hall?

    They may feel uncomfortable, but put yourself in the shoes of a looter for a moment. If you were going to steal stuff, would you head for the King County Administration Building?

    That’s the equivalent of what seems to be happening in Baghdad as the yoke of the Saddam regime is lifted. People appear to be in the mood to take revenge on a government that over three decades impoverished what had once been one of the most prosperous nations in the region.

    “At police stations, universities, government ministries, the headquarters of the Iraq Olympic Committee, looters unhindered by any police presence made off with computers, furniture, telephones, even military jeeps,” AP reports. “One young man used roller skates to wheel away a refrigerator.”

    Here’s a full account.

    Posted by tbrown at 11:08 AM


    Whither all those “No Iraq War” signs?

    Now that Iraqis are parading through the streets of Baghdad waving American flags, we wonder what’s going to happen to those “No Iraq War” signs that sprouted like mushrooms in Seattle neighborhoods. The war is by no means over yet, but there does seem to be considerable support for the U.S. in Baghdad, as well as joy that Saddam's brutal regime is through. Does that change anyone's opinion?

    Some “No Iraq War” signs seem to be disappearing. Many others are still there. Shoot me an email with your thoughts on this: tbrown@seattletimes.com.

    Posted by tbrown at 10:54 AM


    Cool map of Baghdad at MSNBC

    MSNBC's web site has an excellent interactive map of Baghdad that locates major landmarks -- Saddam's palaces, government ministries and the like -- and zooms in and out.

    You can get to it from the MSNBC home page by going to the War at a Glance navigation on the right side of the page and clicking on Baghdad map.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:29 AM


    Iraqi government collapses and Baghdad falls

    While most of us were sleeping, the Iraqi government collapsed and Baghdad fell to the U.S. Army and Marines.

    There were still isolated pockets of resistance that made the streets dangerous. In many areas, there was near anarchy as widespread looting erupted. Civilians poured into Baghdad's central square and began trying to topple a 40-foot statue of Saddam Hussein. It finally fell with some assistance from a U.S. tank. Then a group of Iraqis attached ropes to the statue's head and dragged it down the street, where onlookers stepped up to pelt it with rocks.

    In many areas, U.S. troops were being welcomed. In others, they were still being shot at by Saddam's supporters.

    Saddam's whereabouts were unknown. The U.S. command thinks he either died in the bombing raid Sunday night or is in hiding. British intelligence says he escaped once again.

    U.S. commanders warned that though resistance in Baghdad seemed to be about over, the war was by no means finished yet. Supporters of Saddam are still fighting around his hometown of Tikrit.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:10 AM


    April 08, 2003

    The U.S. resumes its search for the only U.S. POW missing from the Gulf War

    That would be Scott Speicher, whose F/A-18 was shot down on the first night of the 1991 war, apparently by a MiG-25. As reported here on March 21, he intially was reported as killed in action. Over the years as clues accumulated that he might still be alive, his status was changed to missing/captured.

    A CIA/Defense Intelligence Agency team is preparing to enter Iraq to try to determine what happened to him.

    British intelligence says Saddam escaped again

    A quick end to the Iraq war is essential for the safety of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. Coalition casualties in the war remain low, given the intensity of the fighting, but they’re inching up. And Iraqi civilian deaths are accelerating at a pace that is dangerous to U.S. hopes to secure Iraqi goodwill.

    But ending the war quickly may well depend on the capture or provable demise of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. thinks Saddam was, in fact, killed when four tons of bombs from a B-1 slammed into a block containing a restaurant, apartments – and a suspected bunker or other meeting place of the Iraqi president.

    British intelligence, however, believes Saddam was lucky again and left just before the bombing.

    Civilian casualties rise

    Despite U.S. attempts to minimize them, civilian casualties are quickly rising. The Iraqi government says 1,252 civilians have died and another 5,103 have been hurt in 21 days of fighting. The web site Iraq Body Count estimates civilian dead at between 917 and 1,095. In truth, it is unlikely that anyone has a reliable estimate at this point. Urban warfare is raging in Baghdad and continues either fiercely or sporadically in other cities.

    One result is growing desperation and outrage in the Arab world. Here’s one example, by Essam Al-Ghalib of Saudi Arabia’s English-language Arab News.

    “This is no longer a war against Saddam and his regime, if it ever was,” he writes. “It has become a war against the Iraqi people.”

    Al-Ghalib’s account is notable because his dispatches have contained some of the most even-handed reporting in the Arab press.

    So, do Iraqis feel liberated?

    It depends. Some Iraqis have lost all or most of their families to coalition bombing or gunfire and are angry and disillusioned. Others, whose families have suffered at the hands of the Saddam regime, have greeted Coalition troops warmly. Still others have deeply ambiguous feelings. They’re glad Saddam is gone, but don’t trust the U.S. and Britain and decry the near anarchy in some cities.

    Among those who certainly feel liberated are about 150 children who were released from an Iraqi prison as U.S. Marines moved into northeast Baghdad. Some had been there as long as five years. Their crime? Failing to join the youth wing of Saddam’s ruling Ba’ath Party.

    Postwar relief plans are in disarray

    Conditions in Iraqi cities are becoming more desperate daily. There are shortages of water, food and electricity. Hospitals are crammed with victims of the fighting and are running out of supplies. Furthermore, there's still no organized plan for postwar relief.

    11 journalists killed in 21 days of fighting

    Wars are always dangerous for reporters and photographers, and this one has proved no exception. Three more newsmen were killed by American forces in Baghdad.

    A flicker of light in the North Korea tunnel

    UN Security Council members were, not surprisingly, unable to agree on a statement condemning North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Nonetheless, there are bits of encouraging news about the five-month standoff between Pyongyang and Washington.

    It appears that China finally is beginning to lean on Kim Jong-Il’s Stalinist regime, having assessed the consequences of possible conflict between the U.S. and North Korea. There also have been private contacts between the U.S. and the Pyongyang government.

    The U.S. and North Korea also seem to have come to an understanding not to deliberately antagonize one another further, at least now.

    Posted by tbrown at 10:00 PM


    Three newsmen die in Baghdad, but did Saddam?

    Three journalists, including one from the Arab TV channel Al Jazeera, died today as U.S. forces pressed their assault on Baghdad. Two were killed when a U.S. tank fired a shell into the Palestine Hotel, where most reporters are staying. The Al Jazeera correspondent was killed in a separate incident.

    The site bombed yesterday after the U.S. command said it received good intelligence that Saddam and at least one of his sons were there was a gaping crater. The location is under Iraqi control and the ruins were being searched. The U.S. said it would take some time to determine if Saddam was killed.

    Bloody uniforms of U.S. POWs found at a Baghdad prison

    U.S. Marines shot their way into a prison at the sprawling Al Rashid airport complex after receiving information that U.S. POWs were being held there. They found no POWs, but they did find the tops of two chemical suits bearing the names of two known American prisoners and a pair of camouflage pants. An officer said some of the items appeared to have bullet holes in them. The Marines also found used syringes and empty antibiotic packages, perhaps indicating that the POWs had received medical treatment.

    Rules of engagement on a new battlefield

    The assault on Baghdad by U.S. forces has greatly complicated their mission because of the measures needed to attempt to minimize civilian casualties.
    Ray Rivera of The Seattle Times explains the military’s rules of engagement and what they’re intended to accomplish.

    Chaos in Baghdad’s hospitals

    Military and civilian casualties continue to overwhelm hospitals in the Iraqi capital.

    The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid describes the scene.

    Next up for “regime change”: Syria

    This time they want a new government installed by peaceful means, current and former senior U.S. officials say. But they do want a different government in Damascus.

    The Syrian government of Bashar Assad has supported Saddam in the current war and Washington has a long list of grievances: possibly hiding some of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction on Syrian soil, allowing the transit of volunteer fighters from other Muslim countries into Iraq and allowing the transshipment of prohibited weapons to the Iraqi regime.

    Support for the war rises among Americans

    A new Washington Post poll shows 77 percent of those surveyed support the decision to go to war while 16 percent oppose it. Opposition to the war exceeds one-third only among two of the demographic groups surveyed, liberal Democrats and African-Americans.

    Posted by tbrown at 11:53 AM


    New tape by Osama bin Laden released

    A new cassette recording, said to have been made by Osama bin Laden, has been obtained by AP after it was smuggled out of Afghanistan. It calls for Muslims to rise up in a holy war against the coalition countries.

    The U.S. occupation of Iraq could be lengthy

    Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz estimates that it will take at least six months to put a new government in place in Iraq.

    Exiled Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi says, “I'm not prepared to give a timeframe. But we expect to have a constitution ratified within two years.”

    Amir Taheri, writing for the National Review, says, “Signs are that opinion is hardening in the Bush administration in favor of direct American rule for at least five years. Although the Pentagon is not keen, other parts of the administration, including the Sate Department and the National Security Council, favor the direct-rule option.” He fears this “could be a disaster for all concerned.”

    And in Iraq, Kurdish and Shiite opposition groups rejected the idea of an American military government.

    We should note that though it’s been a long time since we were occupiers, the U.S. still has troops in Germany and Japan, nearly 60 years after the end of World War II, and still has them in South Korea 50 years after the armistice of 1953.

    Now, about Korea

    There never seems to be good news on this dangerous and drifting situation and today is no exception. High-level talks between North and South Korea were called off after the North failed to confirm that they would proceed. They were scheduled for Wednesday, the same day the United Nations Security Council is scheduled to discuss a U.S. proposal to impose sanctions on the North because of its nuclear weapons program.

    The American Conservative, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan’s magazine, has a solid outline of what’s at risk here if you skip over some doctrinaire rhetoric.

    By the way, who says the Bush administration is unilateralist?

    That’s been the charge since the U.S. steamrolled many of its traditional allies and the U.N. and plunged into Iraq. Unilateralism only seems to apply to Iraq (so far), though. North Korea is demanding direct talks with the U.S. to resolve the nuclear standoff, but the U.S. says it’ll meet with the Koreans only in a multilateral setting.

    Ups and downs in the war on terror

    While the last days of the Iraqi regime play out in Baghdad, let’s see how the broader war on terrorism is going. There’s good news and bad news.

    Let’s take the bad first.

    From Afghanistan comes word that the Taliban “is not only determined to remain a force in this country, but is reorganizing and reviving its command structure.”

    Guerrilla attacks have made foreign aid workers feel unsafe. An ally of President Mohammed Karzai was assassinated recently. Reconstruction work in the country, devastated by 23 years of war, is painfully slow.

    Next, closer to home, some 14 members of Al Qaida reportedly are in Mexico, working with drug dealers and other criminals in hopes of finding a way into the U.S. One possible attack plan: fire-bombing the Washington Metro between the Capitol Hill and White House stations.

    Now for the good news. U.S. agents and those of governments in Southeast Asia foiled a number of attacks planned by Jemaah Islamiah – they’re the radical group thought to have been behind the Bali bombing that killed 200 people – on U.S. and allied embassies and business interests.

    The would-be bombers bought 4 tons of ammonium nitrate, four times the amount Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building. It has not been recovered.

    Britain’s smart dumb bomb

    The Brits are about to start using a quite unconventional weapon to attack Iraqi military targets that have been placed in civilian neighborhoods: the concrete bomb. The hope is that this device will cut civilian casualties while still taking out military equipment.

    These things are shaped like a bomb, weigh 1,000 pounds and are laser-guided to their targets. A half-ton of concrete landing on you probably could ruin your whole day, even if you’re in a tank.

    The bombs are being painted blue so that cleanup crews will know they’re not real, unexploded bombs if some are found lying around afterward.

    The Red Cross says hospital conditions are “terrible” in Baghdad

    Anything that can cut civilian casualties will be welcome. The fighting has become so intense and the situation in Iraq so chaotic that it’s no longer possible to provide casualty figures that are even vaguely accurate, except for those among coalition troops.

    The Red Cross reports that Baghdad’s hospitals are clogged and low on both water and anesthetics.

    Probably most of those filling the hospitals are Iraqi troops. U.S. Central Command has given estimates of 2,000 to 3,000 Iraqi combatant deaths in Baghdad, so there no doubt are hundreds of wounded. But there also undoubtedly are many civilian casualties.

    At this writing, coalition military deaths stand at 80 Americans and 27 Britons. In addition, seven U.S. troops are prisoners of war and eight are missing in action.

    Updates

    Weapons of mass destruction: One of the latest finds of purported chemical weapons, at an agricultural facility near Karbala, may be pesticides. More detailed testing is being done. The jury is still out on another reported discovery: 20 missiles said to have chemical warheads. If there actually are any WMDs in Iraq, the U.S. seems to have decided they pose no threat after all: all Marines were told to discard their chemical-protection suits.

    Pearl Jam: The Seattle grunge rockers are “are rejecting as media hype a report that there was a mass walkout by upset fans after lead singer Eddie Vedder impaled a mask of President Bush on a microphone stand during the encore."

    Peter Arnett: Now he’s working for an Arab TV station. Maybe this helps explain his problem.

    Posted by tbrown at 07:15 AM


    April 07, 2003

    Palestinians and Jordanians may have joined the Iraqis

    The Jerusalem Post says U.S. troops fought a fierce battle with Palestinian and Jordanian gunmen in an industrial area of the city.

    There have been repeated reports of fighters from other Arab countries entering Iraq through Syria, often with Syrian passports.

    Note: The Post requires free registration in order to view its site.

    Posted by tbrown at 01:29 PM


    U.S. troops may have found nerve and chemical agents

    It looks like the U.S. may have gotten its first proof that Iraq is, indeed, harboring banned "weapons of mass destruction."

    Army troops found more than a dozen barrels hidden at an agricultural facility near Hindiyah. Initial tests showed the contents tested positive for tabun and sarin, both nerve gasses, and a blister agent.

    National Public Radio also reported that U.S. forces found 20 missiles equipped with chemical warheads.

    Update: It looks like those barrels contained pesticides rather than chemical weapons. No word yet on the missiles.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:39 AM


    What do we want? A wider war!

    The war in Iraq is not quite won, much less the peace, and already some folks are frothing for more.

    Here’s John Derbyshire in the National Review Online regarding what we should do about North Korea’s "dear leader" Kim Jong-Il:

    "I have a modest proposal: let's kill the (expletive)."

    Kim is right up there with Saddam on the Evilmeter. But unlike Saddam, whose missile arsenal proved capable of little more than breaking some windows in a Kuwait City mall, the U.S. estimates that North Korea’s military has the ability to pour 400,000 artillery rounds per hour into Seoul and its suburbs, which have a population of 22 million. Plus, he just might already have a nuke or two. And he has tested a missile capable of getting them to Seoul – or Tokyo. A beefed-up, but untested, version of this same missile is said by the CIA to have the ability to put a warhead down in Seattle, San Francisco and L.A.

    Maybe we should think about this.

    There’s little time, though. The UN Security Council is scheduled Wednesday to consider a U.S. proposal to impose sanctions against North Korea because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons. North Korea has said that it would consider sanctions an "act of war."

    Maurice Strong, special adviser to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, visited Pyongyang and seems to think another war on the Korean peninsula is almost inevitable.

    Secretary of State Colin Powell describes the problem with North Korea as one that can be resolved through diplomacy. Kim Jong-Il, however, has said that he believes he is next on the U.S. hit list.

    It is worth remembering that the first Korean War cost the lives of more than 35,000 Americans and perhaps 2 million Koreans.

    So, how about the rest of the Axis of Evil?

    Even Derbyshire seems to think there may be ways of dealing peacefully with Iran, which, though it is very close to nuclear capability, also has an increasingly lively internal movement toward more democratic government.

    Not so his colleague, Michael Ledeen, who argues for taking out the leadership of both Syria and Iran.

    The so-called "neoconservatives" in the Bush administration have made it clear that it's part of their grand plan to take on other "rogue" governments after we’re done with Iraq. This piece answers some of the questions about where these ideas came from.

    The New York Times outlines current Bush administration thinking.

    And here is a piece from a Libertarian site that discusses why an attempted Pax Americana is a bad idea both abroad and at home.

    As a footnote, it’s worth noting that Paul Wolfowitz, one of the chief advocates of forcing our will on other countries whose leadership we don’t like, says it will take at least six months to get a functioning government set up in Iraq.

    To act or to take notes

    Journalists are, rightly, concerned about becoming "part of the story." That is, crossing a line between reporting what’s going on and becoming personally involved with it.

    But journalism ethics are still situational sometimes because of the unpredictability of life. Take the case of Sanjay Gupta. He’s a neurosurgeon from Atlanta who has been accompanying, as an "embedded reporter," a Navy field hospital that sounds like something out of "MASH" – the "Devil Docs."

    On Friday, Gupta was asked to scrub and get into the operating room to try to save the life of a 2-year-old Iraqi child who had been hit in the head by shrapnel because none of the Devil Docs was a brain surgeon. He did. Unfortunately, the child ultimately died from his wounds. Gupta later was asked to help treat a soldier with head wounds, and again he agreed.

    There’s no doubt that he crossed the line between observer and participant. But – did he have a choice? Dr. Gupta’s case no doubt will be examined closely by journalism poobahs. But it's hard to avoid the fact that saving lives is, with rare exceptions, a higher calling than filing stories.

    It’s a harder decision in Baghdad

    The few reporters left in Baghdad (that is, on the Iraqi side of the line, rather than those with U.S. troops) have to deal daily with ethical problems that few of their colleagues will face in a lifetime.

    The coming underground war

    U.S. troops already have seized two of Saddam Hussein’s four palaces in Baghdad. No doubt they will attempt to seize the others shortly. This is not just symbolic. All the palaces are believed to sit over miles of interconnected, multi-level tunnels, passageways and bunkers. Some are said to have been designed to withstand an atomic blast the size of the Hiroshima bomb, so it’s probably safe to assume that many of these facilities are intact and that Saddam and his sons are down there, somewhere.

    "Chemical Ali" is dead

    Ali Hasan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam who was dubbed "Chemical Ali" for organizing a poison-gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in 1988, reportedly was found dead in the rubble of his palace in Basra following a U.S. air strike.

    NBC’s David Bloom dies

    NBC correspondent David Bloom died outside Baghdad while on assignment with U.S. forces. He apparently suffered a blood clot in his lungs.

    Posted by tbrown at 08:05 AM


    April 04, 2003

    There's no such thing as coincidence?

    Maybe Saddam really is in Syria (see Saddam update: Has the regime already changed? at right).

    The Iraqi dictator made two appearances on Iraqi TV Friday. The person in the tapes appears to be him (not a double), indicating that he survived the "decapitation" bombing of one of his compounds on the night the war started.

    However, the only specific incident Saddam mentioned in his brief address to the Iraqi people Friday night was the downing of a U.S. Apache helicopter March 24. A lot has happened since then. Why didn't he mention any of the battles that the Iraqi information ministry blathers about daily?

    For a possible answer, we return to our report by the Israeli site DEBKAfile that on March 23 the Iraqi regime rented an entire 1,600-room luxury resort on the Mediterranean in Syria and that high Iraqi government figures are sequestered there. Saddam could have gone there after the 24th.

    In his other appearance on Iraqi TV, Saddam was shown mixing with supposed civilians in a "spontaneous" demonstration. The tape had some "contemporary" aspects in that there was smoke in the sky, presumably from oil-filed trenches. But those were ignited before March 24.

    Also, analysts of Friday's tapes were puzzled that many of those around Saddam at the demonstration were wearing sweaters and coats, hardly the dress one would expect on days when the temperature is exceeding 100 degrees. It was much cooler in Baghdad 10 days ago.

    So it's possible that both tapes were shot sometime around, say, March 25 or 26, and that Saddam left his minions in charge of the final phase while he looks out at the blue Med.

    As we've noted, the U.S. has been harshly critical of Syria in recent days, accusing it of allowing the transit of night-vision goggles, GPS jammers and Russian-made Kornet anti-tank rockets, all banned under U.N. sanctions. But weapons smuggling is a fact of all wars, and the scale of it in this one clearly hasn't affected the course of battle.

    So we have to wonder: Could there be something far bigger at stake here?

    Posted by tbrown at 08:25 PM


    Atlantic Monthly editor Michael Kelly killed at Baghdad airport

    Michael Kelly, editor-at-large of Atlantic Monthly and a syndicated columnist whose work appeared in The Seattle Times, was killed when the Humvee he was riding in drove into a ditch at Baghdad airport. Both he and his driver drowned.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:30 AM


    Saddam appears on Iraqi TV, urges resistance

    Saddam Hussein appeared on Iraqi TV and urged Iraqis to resist coalition forces "with what you have available."

    He wore a military uniform and beret and appeared haggard. He mentioned the downing of a U.S. Apache helicopter on March 24 -- five days after the air strike that opened the war and that American officials speculated had killed or badly injured him. The new appearance seems to demonstrate that he survived. Saddam is known to use doubles, but this appeared to be the dictator himself. No U.S. analysis of the tape was immediately available.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:10 AM


    Bring live coverage of the war to your PC

    Now here's a site that is really amazing if you've got a little time to play around with it.

    It bills itself as the "Mother of all war websites" and it just may be. With a few mouse clicks, you can watch live coverage on Arab channels from the Middle East, see raw satellite feeds from U.S. network cameras and listen to radio stations from all over the Middle East and Europe.

    Cool! And a tip of the Battle Lines cap to Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for spreading the word on this one.

    Posted by tbrown at 08:55 AM


    He sounds calm

    "They are not anywhere. They are like a snake moving in the desert. They have no foothold in Iraq. Their lies are endless."
    -- Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf

    New fighting erupts at Baghdad airport

    U.S. forces sprinted to Saddam Hussein International Airport Thursday night and captured some of its facilities. Later, however, U.S. troops reportedly were engaged in a fierce battle with entrenched Iraqi forces dug in around the facility.

    The airport is a strategically important target because securing it and the surrounding area would clear the way for airlifts of supplies to U.S. troops.

    In addition, MSNBC reported, the airport is located near the terminus of a special tunnel to central Baghdad used by high Iraqi leaders.

    The British newspaper The Guardian reported that the Iraqi government was ordering civilians to go to the airport and defend it.

    U.S. may pause before battle of Baghdad

    After their quick advance to the outskirts of Baghdad, U.S. troops are likely to take a breather before they enter the city.

    Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke of a more deliberate pace to set the proper conditions for the final stage of the campaign.

    "Patience is the one element of the current plan," said earlier this week, "and it is paying off more and more dividends as the days go by."

    Baghdad orientation

    The war is moving from the macro level of the Iraqi desert to the micro level of the streets of the nation’s capital. Here’s a site where you can view good maps of Baghdad to orient yourself.

    The Iraqi who saved Pvt. Lynch

    But for the decision of an Iraqi man to risk his own life and that of his family, the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch might never have happened.

    For Arabs, it's the killing fields

    Susan Sachs of the New York Times reports an urgent and, for the U.S., threatening theme of the war: "As the Iraq war moved into its third week, the media in the region have increasingly fused images and enemies from this and other conflicts into a single bloodstained tableau of Arab grievance.

    At the Wal-Mart near Camp Lejeune it's a disaster, too

    Practically all the employees and customers are related to someone in the Marines, and the casualties in Iraq hit hard.

    The new U.S. government of Iraq is waiting in Kuwait

    Several hundred Americans, who are supposed to be part of the government the U.S. plans to install in Iraq after Saddam is out of the way, are biding their time in Kuwait – and feuding among themselves.

    One of the key officials of the shadow government is former CIA director James Woolsey, who told a group of college students that we’re now in World War IV (III was the Cold War by his count). He said we’re fighting this conflict, which could last for years, against three enemies: the religious rulers of Iran, the "fascists" of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists like al Qaeda.

    It’s only rock ‘n roll

    Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the Seattle band Pearl Jam, joined the parade of celebrity protesters against the war in a way that outraged some of his fans – he impaled a mask of President Bush on a microphone stand.

    Posted by tbrown at 08:19 AM


    April 03, 2003

    Quote of the day

    "There's not a chance that there's going to be a deal. It doesn't matter who proposes it, there will not be one."
    -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in response to questions about a negotiated end to the war

    Posted by tbrown at 02:06 PM


    Noon update: ABC says U.S. troops have seized Baghdad airport

    Facing light and sporadic resistance, U.S. troops seized the Saddam International Airport outside Baghdad, ABC news reports.

    Posted by tbrown at 12:03 PM


    Casualty update

    There have been 78 confirmed deaths among coalition forces, 54 of whom were Americans. There also are 7 U.S. POWs and 15 U.S. MIAs.

    The U.S. military said today that nine of 11 bodies recovered from a Nasiriyah hospital during the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch were Americans.

    Iraqi civilian dead now number between 574 and 733, according to Iraq Body Count. One of the worst incidents occurred at Hilla southwest of Baghdad earlier this week.

    New cluster bombs dropped on Republican Guard

    There is mounting criticism in Europe and the Arab world of U.S. use of cluster bombs, which have a devastating effect on civilians (on opposing troops, too, but that's the point).

    The blog site Defense Tech reports that the U.S. used a new type of cluster bomb Wednesday on Republican Guard columns during the approach to Baghdad.

    Posted by tbrown at 11:37 AM


    Saddam update: Has the regime already changed?

    The morning's most interesting -- but totally unverifiable -- reports come from the Israeli site DEBKAfile.

    DEBKA claims "it is safe to say that Saddam and the senior members of his family are no longer at the helm of government. Iraq is undoubtedly in the process of regime change, the main objective of the Iraq War. Anything beyond that is hazy."

    The site says the evidence is that Saddam either left the capital or, possibly, is dead.

    It also reports that the Baghdad regime earlier rented an entire "1,600-room luxury resort with 600 meters of private sandy beach in the Mediterranean coastal town of Latakiya" in Syria.

    "Top Iraqi officials are reported hiding there since March 23, four days after the US-led coalition invaded Iraq. They are guarded by a Syrian commando unit armed with anti-air missiles while Syrian naval missile boats secure the port," DEBKA says.

    All, some, or none of this may be true. But it's interesting reading. Check out DEBKA's Iraq War Diary below the headlines.

    The U.S., meanwhile, has stepped up its campaign to sow doubt among Iraqis about Saddam's fate.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:37 AM


    U.S. units within 6 miles of Baghdad

    U.S. forces continued their rapid push toward the Iraqi capital this morning and were prepared to seize the city's international airport. American officials said they were not prepared to enter the city yet because of the threat of protracted and bloody urban warfare.

    Here, some foreign military experts comment on the American advance and what may lie ahead.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:02 AM


    The head of the new Iraqi government has arrived

    Almost unnoticed in all the gunfire, at least one of the Americans who are supposed to run Iraq after the war arrived at the southern port city of Umm Qasr.

    The interim U.S. government, which is to hand the country over to Iraqis after 90 days, will be headed by retired Gen. Jay Garner, a veteran of the Gulf War.

    In what appears to have been his first decision, Garner untangled a feud between U.S. and British forces over how to distribute water to thirsty and largely destitute area residents.

    The bickering between Defense and State about who should man the 23 ministries foreseen for the U.S. occupation government continues inside the beltway.

    “Thank you, this is beautiful!"

    Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division compared it to the Macy’s parade in New York or the Liberation of Paris in World War II. Exaggerations, no doubt, but the day's events cheered them.

    The occasion was their entry into Najaf, a city southeast of Baghdad, where residents flocked into the streets to welcome them. The question now is whether order can be maintained and relief supplies delivered in time to capitalize on the good will.

    Here are stories from the Washington Post and the New York Times.

    Once more: where’s Saddam?

    Ever since U.S. bombs slammed a compound where Saddam was thought to be meeting with advisers, including his two sons, there has been speculation about whether he’s dead or seriously hurt.

    Several hours after that bombing, Saddam – at least U.S. analysts thought it was Saddam, not one of his doubles – appeared on Iraqi TV and delivered a rambling, nearly incoherent statement. Since then, we’ve seen nor heard anything from Saddam that prove he’s alive.

    Speculation about his whereabouts deepened Wednesday, when it was announced that Saddam was going to appear on Iraqi TV. He didn’t. Instead a statement said to have been written by him was read.

    The statement claimed “victory is at hand.” By evening, his information minister had ordered correspondents for Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based TV station accused by the Bush administration of having a pro-Iraq bias, out of the country. You’d think he’d want them there if a victory celebration is at hand.

    Also, Gregg Easterbrook of The New Republic Online had this item:

    SADDAM NOTE: Anne Garrells of NPR, one of the two remaining American reporters in Baghdad, noted this morning that Iraqi officials at press events have abandoned the formalistic obsequiousness with which they refer to Saddam. Till this weekend, every other Iraqi comment was Saddam this, our great leader that. Garrells just attended an Iraqi government press conference at which Saddam was never mentioned. To Best-Laid Plans it feels ever more significant that it's been twelve days since the "decapitation" attack and there has been no public image of Saddam speaking about any fact that has become known since then.

    If Saddam is dead, it might lead to quicker disintegration of the Iraqi regime when coalition forces tighten their grip on Baghdad. It’s fair to suspect that at least some high-level people in the Iraqi government may want to try to cut deals to save their own hides.

    On the other hand, Saddam may just be lying low. As many have noted, he is nothing of not a survivor. And did we really kill all those Republican Guard troops, or did many of them withdraw into Baghdad to prepare for the big battle?

    Al Jazeera note: These guys are nothing if not feisty. Fed up with hacker attacks that have frequently overwhelmed their Arabic and English web sites, the station has announced it’ll start a text service that can be received by cell phones.

    Syria’s terrorist highway

    The U.S. has been leaning heavily on Syria to stop helping Saddam. The language used by Secretary of State Powell and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is, in diplomatic terms, one step away from war.

    The U.S. has accused Syria of allowing night-vision goggles and Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles – both prohibited under U.N. sanctions – to pass through it’s territory to Iraq.

    Now British commandos have arrested four busloads of suspected suicide bombers and would-be fighters in western Iraq and is holding them as POWs. Though they came from many nations, all were carrying Syrian passports.

    One more reason the peace may be hard to manage

    After all the attention we’ve focused on Iraq recently, you’d think the U.S. would know quite a bit about what makes the place tick. Not so, this Boston Globe piece says.

    One thing we do know, though, is that it’s main enforcement tool is terror. Here’s a first-hand account of a visit to an Iraqi “police station” from the anti-war London Mirror.

    Some alternative news sources

    If you’re tired of the war news you’re getting from mainstream media, you might want to check out some of these links. Most, but not all, are anti-war. In the days ahead, I'll provide lists of other sites with other perspectives.

    AntiWar.com (news and analysis)

    Common Dreams

    Democracy Now

    The Nation

    Snow Coalition

    Indymedia Network

    ForUSA.info

    FAIR (analysis of network coverage)

    Ha’aretz (a leading Israeli newspaper)

    Arab News(English-language news from Saudi Arabia)

    Al Jazeera (Qatar-based TV whose site is often disabled by hacker attacks)
    English
    Arabic,/a>

    Links to alternative news sites and anti-war sites

    Z Magazine (commentary)

    Inter Press Service News Agency (specializes in global issues)

    WebActive (hosts Radio Nation, Pacifica Network News, Democracy NOW!, Hightower Radio, CounterSpin and others)

    ElectronicIraq.net (launched by veteran antiwar campaigners Voices in the Wilderness the Electronic Intifada)

    IRAQWAR.RU (analytical center created recently by journalists and military experts from Russia)

    Swiss war coverage (Select from among (English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic, or Chinese) and click on "International."

    AlterNet (often provides an independent point of view)

    News about the Human Shield program

    War Watch (daily update of news, original commentary, and interactive maps on the war in Iraq, focusing on underrepresented and foreign news sources)

    MediaWar.info'sIndependent Media News Portal

    Posted by tbrown at 08:25 AM


    April 02, 2003

    U.S. forces near Baghdad; one Republican Guard division destroyed

    U.S. troops advanced toward Baghdad quickly today, breaking the Republican Guard's defensive line in several places.

    Some U.S. units were reported to be less than 20 miles from the city.

    The Baghdad Division of the Republican Guard was essentially destroyed by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force after having been plastered for days by air strikes.

    The 3rd Infantry Division was fighting its way through the remnants of two other RG divisions.

    Today's journalism scandal

    The other day, it was Peter Arnett saying on Iraqi TV that the U.S. war plan had failed.

    Now, it's a front-page correction in the Los Angeles Times, disclosing how one of its photographers combined two photographs to make a single better one. The photographer was fired.

    Unfortunately, digital photography makes such hoaxes pretty easy, so this may not be the war's last one. Major newspapers do, however, have strict policies about doctoring photographs, so transgressors who are caught find themselves on the street.

    The market for Iraq war souvenirs

    E-Bay long ago validated the notion that Americans will buy anything, and it's clear that it's true of the Iraq war, too. This morning, there were 2,699 Iraq items for sale on the site: currency, buttons, t-shirts, posters, you name it. Many of the items were drawing few, if any, bids, however.

    Up-close reporting

    Some of the most detailed and gritty battlefield dispatches have been coming from the Boston Herald's Jules Crittenden. If you want to know what the war looks like on the ground, check out this file from yesterday.


    Posted by tbrown at 09:54 AM


    Can the Pentagon be the Department of Peace?

    The Defense Department is responsible for fighting the nation's wars. In fact, it used to be called the War Department. That was back in the days when Congress actually declared wars, something it hasn't bothered to do since 1941.

    But as reported here yesterday, the Pentagon now seems to want complete control over the U.S.-installed government that is supposed to rule Iraq on an interim basis until an Iraqi government can be formed. Is it up to the job? Robert Wright at Slate wonders.

    Is this just the first of several wars?

    Maybe. Diplomacy once again appears to have failed, this time with Syria and Iran. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell have each harshly criticized both Syria and Iran for assisting Iraq or sponsoring terrorism.

    "Syria can continue direct support for terrorist groups and the dying regime of Saddam Hussein, or it can embark on a different and more hopeful course,” Powell said. “Either way, Syria bears the responsibility for its choices, and for the consequences."

    Syria raised the ante Monday. Syrian Foreign Minister Faruk al Shara declared: "Syria's interest is to see the invaders defeated in Iraq. The resistance of the Iraqis is extremely important. It is a heroic resistance to the U.S.-British occupation of their country."

    The Syria Times, a government-controlled newspaper, used even harsher language: "The only way out is to stop the war immediately and hold those responsible for it `accountable' for their crimes against humanity."

    Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said, "From the very beginning we predicted that the Iraq nation would not welcome foreign invading forces. They (the Americans) are seeking to ensure Israel's complete domination over the region."

    John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary for arms control, reportedly told Israeli officials recently that the U.S. would have to “deal” with Syria, Iran, Libya and North Korea after the Iraq conflict is over, but didn’t indicate what that meant.

    However, both Bolton and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice have said they consider the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs “imminent” threats. The Bush administration has said repeatedly that it if necessary it would use “pre-emptive” military strikes to quash such threats.

    How much energy the administration will have for further confrontations no doubt will depend in part on the outcome of the Iraq conflict and its fallout.

    Update: If we do use force against Syria or Iran, it looks like we really will be alone. The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said emphatically that Britain would not participate in such an action.

    Scores more civilians killed

    U.S. troops are trying to clear a path to Baghdad through Iraqi defenses, which often are located in or around towns and cities. The result has been many more civilian deaths along the route of march and in Baghdad. Australian Broadcasting rounds up the day’s incidents.

    Iraqis in some areas are openly welcoming the coalition

    There were several reports Tuesday of crowds of Iraqis welcoming U.S. and British troops. Here is one.

    What the Arab press is saying

    The BBC regularlyly rounds up brief takes on what the Arab press is saying. Here’s a sample.

    Uh oh. The Marines are running out of cigarettes

    Being down to one MRE a day, as some U.S. troops have been, is one thing. Nobody's addicted to those. But no Marlboros or Copenhagen? This is serious. About a third of Marines are tobacco users (compared with less than one-quarter of the population at large), their supplies have failed to catch up with them and they're getting grouchy.

    Cpl. Matt Nale of Seattle said he and others have been hitting Iraqi farmers up for smokes.

    "We've had three cigarettes a day for the last three days because of those farmers," he said.

    How the tube covers that five-sided building

    The Washington Post’s media reporter, Howard Kurtz, talks with network reporters, who help shape American perceptions of the war, about covering the Pentagon since the conflict started.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:40 AM


    April 01, 2003

    U.S. POW rescued

    Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old Army private from Palestine, West Va., was rescued Tuesday, Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters at U.S. Central Command field headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

    "The soldier has been returned to a coalition controlled area," Brooks said in a brief statement.

    Lynch had been missing in action since March 23, when members of the 507th Maintenance Company were attacked by Iraqi forces in Nasiriyah. Seven other members of the unit are known to have been captured.

    She reportedly was taken to a hospital for evaluation.

    Posted by tbrown at 05:36 PM


    Defense and State departments squabble over postwar plans

    The Pentagon and the State Department are into some pretty serious bickering over what the U.S.-controlled postwar Iraqi government should look like.

    State proposed that the team include eight present and former State Department officials, including some ambassadors to Arab countries. They were initially cleared, then were told they weren't going.

    Instead, the Washington Post reports, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is trying to "ensure the Pentagon controls every aspect of reconstructing the country and forming a new government." One of his choices is former CIA director R. James Woolsey.

    Josh Marshall, who consistently has informed comment on his blog site, Talking Points Memo, also takes on the postwar government question.

    Where's Geraldo update

    Coming home soon. He agreed to leave voluntarily, rather than be expelled, after military officials said he had "compromised operational security" at the unit he was covering.

    And where's Peter Arnett?

    The Daily Mirror in London has hired him. The paper opposes the war in Iraq.

    "I report the truth of what is happening in Baghdad and will not apologize for it," the tabloid quoted Arnett as saying.

    But he did apologize for saying on Iraqi TV that the U.S. war plan had failed after NBC, MSNBC and National Geographic Explorer all fired him.

    But that was yesterday. Oh, well.

    Posted by tbrown at 10:45 AM


    “We’re prepared to pay a very high price"

    And it looks like we may.

    Considering the level of combat in Iraq, coalition casualties have been quite low (though not, needless to say, to the families of the dead and wounded). At this writing, there are 73 coalition deaths, seven prisoners of war and 19 missing in action. The POWs and MIAs are all U.S. soldiers.

    So far, civilian casualties also are low by the standards of most wars, though they’re a source of mounting outrage in the Arab world. According to Iraq Body Count, a site run primarily by academics, civilian deaths caused by coalition activities number somewhere between 478 and 586. The site regularly updates its counts and maintains a viewable database of incidents in which civilians were killed. There is no way of knowing how many Iraqi civilians have been killed by their own government since the conflict began.

    I have not seen a good estimate of Iraqi military casualties, but they could number in the thousands by now, given the number of sharp ground engagements and constant pounding by U.S. planes. Another 4,000 or so are POWs.

    Judging by the ferocity of the fighting in every city coalition troops have entered, it looks like the ante is about to be raised exponentially.

    U.S. Central Command appears to be trying to lay the groundwork for high U.S. casualties if widespread urban warfare in Baghdad is needed to bring down Saddam Hussein.

    “We’re prepared to pay a very high price,” an unidentified senior official at Central Command told several reporters. “If that means there will be a lot of casualties, there will be a lot of casualties.”

    Maybe so. But very high prices have led to great public discontent (which Saddam is relying on), especially when the necessity for war has been inadequately explained, as prewar polls appeared to indicate.

    So the worst, it seems, is indeed yet to come. And not just on the battlefield.

    A tribute to the fallen

    The Spokane Spokesman-Review's blog has a touching slideshow of photos of U.S. dead and missing. You can access it from the right-hand column of the page. It is beginning to take a discouraging number of mouse clicks to get through it, though.

    It apparently was an American missile that hit that Baghdad market

    The U.S. military says it’s still investigating the explosion in which left about 60 dead at a market in a Baghdad residential neighborhood Friday. But based on a piece of wreckage found at the scene, Australian blogger Tim Blair makes a good case that it was an American HARM missile that caused the damage.

    HARM missiles are used by the U.S. to attack Iraqi radar sites. The Aussie analysis observes that these missiles are designed to throw off a lot of shrapnel to damage the radars they’re aimed at. Shrapnel was responsible for most of the casualties Friday.

    There have been numerous reports of Iraq moving mobile radars and other equipment into civilian neighborhoods, so we may not have seen the last of these incidents.

    Why some Iraqis wanted the war

    Surely, one of the more unusual personal odysseys of the conflict is that of Ken Joseph Jr., a pastor in the Assyrian Christian church, who I mentioned briefly in a previous posting. Joseph went to Baghdad before the war to be a human shield. He returned convinced that Saddam Hussein had to be ousted, even at the price of war. Joseph tells his story on the church web site, where his biographical information also is posted. The site also offers videotapes of interviews with Iraqis who told him why they wanted war.

    Update: Many of the human shields who went to Iraq are still there, hoping to protect Iraqi infrastructure sites from coalition bombing. This morning, Iraq's information minister claimed U.S. planes had bombed two busloads of shields yesterday. The shields' official website, however, says nothing about this but does report that members of another group, Iraqi Peace Team, were injured in a traffic accident yesterday. It also carries other news about the shields' activities.

    For an alternative view to that of Ken Joseph Jr., here is a report from a German who was a human shield and returned home for financial reasons. "The people don't want war," he says. "They just want to be left alone. They don't want to be liberated by Bush and Blair."

    Is the new respiratory illness SARS a bio weapon that escaped the lab?

    Probably not, says the blog site Bigwig, but it may be someday because it has some ideal characteristics for the purpose.

    A guide to embedded reporters

    The Poynter Institute has posted a map that gives popup lists of names of the news reporters and photographers assigned to various military units in Iraq. It may be helpful to military families in determining which news organizations might have firsts-hand accounts of what’s happening in their loved ones’ outfits.

    Poynter’s site also does a good job of war coverage in its own right. One thing worth reading today is a discussion of Peter Arnett’s firing after he said on Iraqi TV that the U.S. military campaign had failed.

    War bloggery

    The Washington Post has a useful guide to war blogs (and I don’t say that just because this one is included).

    I will post later this week (I hope) a broader list of blogs and other sites with something to say about the war.

    War flackery

    So how is the U.S. military’s public relations effort for the war playing. Not well in Arab countries, as we know. But it gets rave reviews from this site that rates PR campaigns.

    Posted by tbrown at 09:34 AM


    Tom Brown Katherine Long, research editor at the Seattle Times and 18-year editor and reporter, substituted for Tom Brown the week of April 14.

     ARCHIVES
    April 2003
    March 2003

     RECENT ENTRIES
    Signing off
    The Saddam Files
    Demonstrations in Karbala
    Building a government from scratch
    Smoking gun?
    The irony of freedom
    Dispatches
    Where are the weapons?
    Cultural advisors quit over antiquities issue
    Baghdad reality check

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